Ironically, as Russia’s outrageous war against Ukraine moves into its seventh week, Jewish families around the world will be celebrating Passover, the Jewish festival of freedom. I have found myself repeatedly making comparisons between this modern struggle for Ukrainian freedom and the biblical freedom story, the Exodus from Egypt.
When I heard that for a very brief period the incessant destructive Russian shelling of Mariupol had ceased, I could visualize the sea of destruction parting so that a convoy of refugees, children, the sick and the elderly, could pass through to safety.
This “escape” became real to me when several days later, Janna, a 77-year-old woman in a wheelchair, finally reached one of the refugee shelters in Przemyśl, Poland, where the Hadassah Medical Humanitarian Mission, established by Hadassah along with its sister organizations, Hadassah Medical Organization and Hadassah International, of which I am communications chair, is providing much needed care. She was one of these refugees from Mariupol. A Hadassah Muslim doctor and Jewish nurse took care of her severe lung infection, and when they learned that she has relatives in Israel, they initiated the process that would allow her to join her family in Israel.
This Passover (Pesach), we will continue to sit glued to our television screens watching the daily news about Ukraine. We realize that Ukrainian bravery, and their conviction that they are entitled to live as free people, is at the heart of the story we see unfolding before our eyes. Their homes might be bombed to smithereens, but they remain defiant.
We have all had a gut instinct that this time we cannot ignore what is happening in real time as Russia commits war crimes in its conduct of a war of attrition and genocide against Ukrainian civilians. In a real sense, the Ukrainians are fighting for our freedom, our right to live freely in the country of our choice.
The concept of freedom is one that everyone instinctively understands. Many of us have responded by wanting to help the Ukrainian people in any way that we can. I am proud to volunteer for Hadassah, with its medical mission that is really making a difference and helping thousands of refugees in need on the Ukrainian -Polish border.
At the time of the Biblical Exodus, the enslaved Israelites were waging a battle for their freedom against Egypt, one of the most powerful countries in the ancient world. A key part of the story is Moses going toe-to-toe with Pharoah and telling him to release the Israelites from bondage – to “Let my people go.”
Moses calls down ten plagues to afflict the Egyptian people. The Bible lists the plagues as: blood, frogs, lice, beasts, cattle disease, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and finally the death of the first born in every family.
After each plague, Pharaoh hardens his heart, and refuses to accede to the Israelites demands, until the final plague kills his son. At that point he gives in, and the Israelites are able to hurriedly flee to safety without having time to prepare bread for their journey – hence the matzah, unleavened bread, we eat for eight days.
This Passover, as I think of freedom, I will visualize Volodymyr Zelensky going toe-to-toe with Putin and telling Putin that he cannot take over Ukraine. It belongs to the Ukrainian people.
I hear him calling on the nations of the world to bring down “plagues” on Putin and the Russian State in the hope that Putin will stop his relentless bombing of innocent Ukrainian civilians and allow Ukraine to “be free.”
So far, the world has responded by
- denying approval for the Nord Stream 2 gas line to Germany;
- freezing the assets of the Russian Central Bank;
- banning Russia from the SWIFT system;
- impounding the bank accounts and yachts of Russian oligarchs;
- restricting the import of Russian oil and gas;
- halting credit card use;
- closing McDonalds and many other western stores in Russia;
- providing armaments to Ukraine;
- providing support for Ukrainian refugees.
The Ukrainian army is fighting back against one of the largest armies in the world. However, this Pesach 2022 there are also nearly five million displaced Ukrainian refugees. Ukrainian women have had to pack what they can carry in one bag, gather their children, parents, and even their pets, and have fled to safety, leaving their husbands, brothers and fathers to fight for their freedom.
We do not know what Putin’s breaking point will be.
May it come soon. Let Ukraine be free!!
For more information on Hadassah’s humanitarian role relieving the suffering of Ukrainian refugees, please visit here.